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Inc. v. City of Dunedin

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

August 16, 2019

PIRATE'S TREASURE, INC., Appellant,
v.
CITY OF DUNEDIN, FLORIDA, a municipal corporation, and MATTHEW CAMPBELL, an individual, Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; Cynthia Newton, Judge.

          David J. Melvin and Keathel Chauncey of Fresh Legal Perspective, PL, Tampa, for Appellant.

          Jay Daigneault and Randol D. Mora of Trask Daigneault, LLP, Clearwater, for Appellee City of Dunedin.

          Bennett C. Lofaro of Boyd Richards Parker & Colonnelli, P.L., Tampa, for Appellee Matthew Campbell.

          SALARIO, JUDGE.

         Pirate's Treasure, Inc. sued the City of Dunedin and its employee, Matthew Campbell, over their handling of Pirate's Treasure's request for City approval to redevelop real property. While the case was pending, Pirate's Treasure transferred the property to Pirate's Cove Holdings, LLC. The City filed a motion for summary judgment in which Mr. Campbell joined, arguing that upon the transfer to Pirate's Cove, Pirate's Treasure lost any interest in the property and, as a consequence, lost standing to maintain the suit. The trial court granted the motion and rendered a final judgment accordingly. Because there are genuine issues of material fact about whether Pirate's Treasure has an interest in the outcome of the controversy sufficient to support its continued standing, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         The course of dealings between Pirate's Treasure and the City that led to this dispute and the zoning and land use regulations applicable to those dealings, as presented by the pleadings in the circuit court, are a pretty complex affair. In layman's terms, here is what the reader needs to know. Pirate's Treasure used to own upland and submerged property in the City upon which it operated a marina. In 2006, it began having discussions with the City about the zoning and land use approvals it would need to expand the marina and to build a restaurant on the upland property. On the City's end, Mr. Campbell played a key role in those discussions.

         In Pirate's Treasure's telling, the City's approval of the proposed redevelopment looked like a sure thing. Mr. Campbell and other City employees told it that the marina expansion and the restaurant construction would both be approved. Buoyed by those assurances, Pirate's Treasure hired an engineering firm to prepare a site plan for the City's approval. Throughout 2008 and early 2009, the approval process moved smoothly, and-again, we stress, in Pirate's Treasure's telling-the City assured it that the redevelopment was approved subject to a couple of minor issues. Pirate's Treasure demolished an existing structure on the property to prepare for the redevelopment that it believed was a lock in terms of City approval.

         Things hit a snag in mid-2009, however, precipitated in part by objections raised by an owner of property next to Pirate's Treasure's. Although the City officially approved the marina expansion in 2010, it told Pirate's Treasure in 2011 that it viewed the application for approval of the restaurant construction as having been terminated and that it would have to submit a new application for that part of the proposed redevelopment. Pirate's Treasure considered this a big problem because, among other reasons, the City also took the position that revisions to the City's zoning and land use regulations that went into effect while the original application was pending would be deemed to apply to any new application.

         In September 2011, Pirate's Treasure filed a complaint against the City in the circuit court seeking a declaratory judgment that its application for approval of the restaurant construction was never lawfully terminated and that the zoning and land use regulations in effect at the time its original application was filed governed the approval process. It also sought a writ of mandamus compelling the City to complete its review of the application for approval for the restaurant construction within a reasonable time. The case was scheduled for a trial in April 2013 but was taken off calendar with the agreement of the parties. Things remained dormant for quite some time after that.

         On December 3, 2014, Pirate's Treasure executed a warranty deed conveying the property at issue to Pirate's Cove, a limited liability company that appears to be related in some way to Pirate's Treasure. Two weeks later, on December 17, 2014, Pirate's Treasure filed an amended complaint in which it continued to allege that it was the owner of the property. The amended complaint repleaded the claims for declaratory relief and a writ of mandamus asserted in the original and also included new claims for negligent misrepresentation and fraud against both the City and Mr. Campbell, which alleged that Pirate's Treasure suffered damages by taking actions such as the commencement of construction in reliance on the City's and Mr. Campbell's alleged representations about the approval of the redevelopment.

         The new tort claims sparked litigation between Pirate's Treasure and the City over sovereign immunity. The circuit court dismissed the fraud claim against the City on that basis but declined to dismiss the negligent misrepresentation claim. On July 11, 2017, Pirate's Treasure filed a second amended complaint that, in accord with the trial court's dismissal order, deleted the fraud claim against the City but that was identical to its predecessor in all other important respects-including the allegation that Pirate's Treasure owned the property at issue. The City responded with a motion for summary judgment arguing that Pirate's Treasure ...


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